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Harry Potter and Faith Obedience

Warning! Spoilers follow! If you haven’t finished Harry Potter 7 and want no information about it, stop reading now. You have been warned. 🙂

God knows what we do not know and sees what we do not see. ?
(President Howard W. Hunter, Ensign, Nov. 1987, 60.)

Perhaps you are already tired of people talking and writing about Harry Potter, but since I just finished The Deathly Hallows, I’m still needing to decompress and sort through some of the things I have thought and felt. Today, my thoughts center on a parallel that I found powerful and meaningful.

Come with me first to a conversation between Hermoine and Harry:

He told everything that Muriel had told him. When he had finished, Hermoine said, “Of course, I can see why that’s upset you, Harry –”

“I’m not upset,” he lied, “I’d just like to know whether or not it’s true or –”

“Harry, do you really think you’ll get the truth from a malicious old woman like Muriel, or from Rita Skeeter? How can you believe them? You knew Dumbledore!”

“I thought I did,” he muttered.

“But you know how much truth there was in everything Rita wrote about you! Doge is right, how can you let these people tarnish your memories of Dumbledore?”

He looked away, trying not to betray the resentment he felt. There it was again: Choose what to believe. He wanted the truth. Why was everybody so determined that he should not get it? (p. 185, emphasis added)

It was interesting to journey with Harry through his struggle and frustration as he wondered if Dumbledore was really trustworthy. There were so many voices around him casting doubt. Was he really as noble and good as many thought, or were there condemning cobwebs and shadows in his past hidden in pretense? Was it indeed his fault his sister died? Did he really dabble in the dark arts? Had he really shown contempt toward Muggles? Was he really a selfish man at heart?

Harry struggled with doubts of his own. Why hadn’t Dumbledore left more specific information about his mission? (There was so much Harry didn’t understand and ached to know!) Why hadn’t his venerable mentor shared more about his past, about things like their common connection with Godric’s Hollow? At times Harry felt betrayed, felt as though perhaps if Dumbledore hadn’t held back information, he would be more able to move forward, more able to trust in the heavy task Dumbledore had left him. For a while, information seemed to be of utmost importance to Harry, the variable that could determine if full trust was possible or even right.

The peak of this tension for me as a reader came when Harry met Aberforth. Dumbledore’s brother tried to convince Harry that he should turn back, abandon his quest. Here was someone who was there when Ariana died. Aberforth knew Dumbledore’s weaknesses perhaps better than anyone. He also knew the dangers that lay ahead of Harry, and thought it utter foolishness for Harry to move forward. He did all he could to dissuade Harry.

My heart thrilled, however, when I read Harry’s thoughts, in spite of the onslaught of painful information:

Harry kept quiet. He did not want to express the doubts and uncertainties about Dumbledore that had riddled him for months now. He had made his choice while he dug Dobby’s grave, he had decided to continue along the winding, dangerous path indicated for him by Albus Dumbledore, to accept that he had not been told everything that he wanted to know, but simply to trust. He had no desire to doubt again; he did not want to hear anything that would deflect him from his purpose. (p. 563, emphasis added)

It was this choice, this determination and trust that allowed Harry to eventually conquer Voldemort, once and — literally — for all. But consider the cost: his decision to trust required Harry to willingly walk to his death. Trust didn’t guarantee that everything would be pleasant or easy, or that his efforts would provide him any personal benefit. Yet he moved forward resolutely and confidently to meet Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest. And he did it alone. No other voice mattered now; he knew what was right even though he didn’t know or understand everything. He had learned through his own experience to discern light from darkness, and found power and peace in his decision to trust.

I’m sure the parallel is clear. There are many voices and much information swirling around us. There are many who want to assert that there is more we “should know” about Church history, about past and present prophets, about alleged character flaws and bad decisions and changes in the Church. Some suggest that we really can’t fully put trust in the prophets because maybe that event or that policy or that character flaw could mean that they could be wrong. Therefore, we should hold back a little somehow, and continue instead our quest for information, for “truth.”

Like Harry, we all have to figure out what to do about these voices, about all the information to which we have access (or to which we wish we had access!). Of course, there is a time and place for studying things out in our minds. I’m not advocating ignorance by any means. But faith, by definition, requires that we act without a perfect knowledge. At some point, we, like Harry, need to decide that nothing else matters but resolute trust, a trust born of experience and faith — in spite of the unknown or what we still could know or what information may still continue to come at us.

President Boyd K. Packer recently stated:

“Some things that are true aren ?t very useful. And there are those…who have looked at the leaders of the Church, for instance, and found out that they ?re human and want to tell everything. There are steps and missteps that don ?t help anything. Some think that to be totally honest they have to tell everything. They don ?t. If they ?ve got the mindset for that, then they ?re always grumbling they have an appetite for it. They ?re free to do that, but it isn ?t really productive….”

Again, Harry “had decided to continue along the winding, dangerous path indicated for him by Albus Dumbledore, to accept that he had not been told everything that he wanted to know, but simply to trust. He had no desire to doubt again; he did not want to hear anything that would deflect him from his purpose.” Doubt is a choice. Trust is a choice.

What is our purpose? It is to help the Lord “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” It is to choose Christ and His cause, to help Him further His work on the earth. It is to help individuals and families come to Christ so that they can receive the saving ordinances of God and find eternal happiness. I simply cannot believe that we can fully serve the Lord in His purpose if we hold back, if we somehow hover undecided between opinions that abound. At some point, we need to make a choice that we don’t need to know anything more about history or about the prophets (or about whatever else we don’t or could know) in order to move forward firmly in faith.

The exercising of faith is a willingness to accept without total regular proof and to move forward and perform works. Faith without works is dead ? [James 2:26] and a dead faith will not lead one to move forward to adjust a life or to serve valiantly. A real faith pushes one forward to constructive and beneficial acts as though he knew in absoluteness. (President Spencer W. Kimball, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, (2006), 135 ?44)

This kind of faith will be essential for us to fulfill our purposes as members of the Lord’s Church and to be part of the Lord’s army that will defeat the adversary. President Harold B. Lee tells us in simple terms how we can safely stay on the Lord’s side:

We have some tight places to go before the Lord is through with this church and the world in this dispensation. ? The power of Satan will increase; we see it on every hand. ? We must learn to give heed to the words and commandments that the Lord shall give through his prophet. ? There will be some things that take patience and faith ? (in Conference Report, Oct. 1970, 152).

Being on the Lord’s side is not simply something we show in our words. We must show him daily in our thoughts and actions where our loyalties lie. President James E. Faust asks:

So where should each of us make our stand? As we demonstrate our devotion to God by our daily acts of righteousness, He can know where we stand. For all of us this life is a time of sifting and refining. We all face trials. Individual members in the early days of the Church were tested and refined when they had to decide if they had the faith…to put their belongings in a wagon or a pioneer handcart and travel across the American plains. Some did not have the faith. Those who did traveled with faith in every footstep. ? In our time we are going through an increasingly difficult time of refining and testing. The tests are more subtle because the lines between good and evil are being eroded. Very little seems to be sacred in any of our public communication. In this environment we will need to make sure where we stand all of the time in our commitment to eternal truths and covenants.

We learn in scripture how the Lord reveals these eternal truths and covenants. “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).

Elder R. Conrad Schultz’s words were what inspired the title of this post. He said:

[The adversary tries to] persuad[e] us that blindly ? following the prophets and obeying the commandments is not thinking for ourselves. He teaches that it is not intelligent to do something just because we are told to do so by a living prophet or by prophets who speak to us from the scriptures.

Our unquestioning obedience to the Lord ?s commandments is not blind obedience. President Boyd K. Packer in the April conference of 1983 taught us about this: Latter-day Saints are not obedient because they are compelled to be obedient. They are obedient because they know certain spiritual truths and have decided, as an expression of their own individual agency, to obey the commandments of God. ? We are not obedient because we are blind, we are obedient because we can see ? ( Agency and Control, ? Ensign, May 1983, 66).

We might call this faith obedience. ? With faith, Abraham was obedient in preparing Isaac for sacrifice; with faith, Nephi was obedient in obtaining the brass plates; with faith, a little child obediently jumps from a height into the strong arms of his father. Faith obedience ? is a matter of trust. The question is simple: Do we trust our Heavenly Father? Do we trust our prophets?

Again, trust is a choice.

I realize that we are all in different places in this journey of faith, and part of our purpose is indeed to gain experience that can strengthen our faith and resolve to move forward in the Lord’s cause without reservation, to stand behind the prophets in faith and trust. It is my conviction that they are trustworthy. I know they are not perfect, but it matters not to me. I made the decision long ago to trust them, as part of an expression of my faith in the Lord. Experience has taught me time and time again that that decision is good and right; that seed of faith I planted (“I will experiment and see if following the prophets is good”) has grown to a tree bearing delicious, sweet fruit. Trust in the prophets, particularly when I note repeated teachings (think: law of witnesses), brings the Spirit into my life. This trust gives me a feeling of peace and of power beyond my own, because I believe a key way to come to Christ is to receive His servants. I know the prophets will lead the Church aright, and that if I follow them, I will not be led astray.

The battle between good and evil is real. We can be deceived by the “subtle craftiness of men.” I believe trust in the prophets is a key to protection from deception. With that conviction and faith in Christ, I feel empowered to move forward, to face the trials of my life and our day.

It is perhaps because of this conviction that tears came to my eyes as I read one of the final, poignant scenes of the book. While the celebration continued in the Great Hall after the destruction of Voldemort, Harry, Hermoine, and Ron ascended the stairs to the headmaster’s office.

Harry had eyes only for the man who stood in the largest portrait directly behind the headmaster’s chair. Tears were sliding down from behind the half-moon spectacles into the long silver beard, and the pride and the gratitude emanating from him filled Harry with the same balm as phoenix song. (p. 747)

I would never attempt to fully equate an imperfect fictional character with the Lord, but in imagining this scene of the book, I can’t help but think of the joy that will fill our hearts — and the Lord’s — if we have chosen to live life in a spirit of trust and “faith obedience.” I believe that if we do, we will hear the Savior say: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

{ 18 comments… add one }
  • Alison Moore Smith July 28, 2007, 8:27 am

    I want to sustain this post, but apparently I’m not supposed to. I just discovered that authors aren’t supposed to sustain their own work and I’m not supposed to sustain my own blog. :tongue: I think this article is one that many will enjoy. If anyone feels so inclined to sustain it, please do so. Use the link at the bottom of the original article (as linked above). 🙂

  • Rachel July 28, 2007, 11:11 am

    I just finished The Deathly Hallows this morning, and then came here and saw this. What perfect timing! And how I appreciate what was written–it follows my own line of thoughts as I read.

    Many thanks!

  • agardner July 28, 2007, 3:22 pm

    I think I really need to work on my faith obedience. I was one who was screaming the whole time, “Harry, don’t do it! Dumbledore was a fraud, he’s fooling you! You’re being led into a trap!” Just shows how far I still have to go, I guess.

    I loved this book, I thought it all resolved really well at the end, and ended just the way it should have. I did think the epilogue was just a little cheesy, but it was cute.

  • Alison Moore Smith July 28, 2007, 4:03 pm

    I have to confess, I have not read ANY of the Harry Potter books. None. I saw the first half hour or so of the first movie, before taking out a toddler who was fussy. Never saw any of the others. Last week, for my daughter’s 20th birthday, she wanted us ALL to go to the current movie (is it five?). I offered to stay home with Caleb who, at three, isn’t the best at movies. She REALLY wanted us all to go. We went, and within the first six minutes, Caleb began throwing up all over me. Yum.

    So, I took Caleb home. This week, the same daughter went with me to see the show again. I enjoyed it, although she spent half the time trying to explain who everyone was and why they were doing what they were and what the history was. I didn’t get some of it. But I sure enjoyed the time with my “baby.”

    But I do know who dies in the last book…even if I don’t really know who they are!

  • daisy July 28, 2007, 8:16 pm

    this series of books was THE book that turned my son onto reading. Before Harry Potter I read to him but he didn’t have the desire to gobble a book up himself(he WAS(past tense) a slow reader and it was easier for him to listen to me) He has other reasons for loving the series that caused him to re-read the entire series in the past year and texted me a week ago to let me know he bought the latest book. there is no doubt he is finished by now as he reads night and day.

    I loved your article, i love when authors get basic spiritual truths and are able to put it into story form. I am copying your article and sending it too my son. Maybe it will light the embers of a testimony that has dwindled.

    thanks for writing it.

  • daisy July 28, 2007, 8:19 pm

    Alison, other than the first book which I read to my son, (after the first he took off and read himself). I haven’t read any other of the books. for whatever reason I just couldn’t enjoy her style of writing, though I liked the story itself alot. and i love the movies. I was just glad my son loved the books.

  • mlinford July 28, 2007, 10:25 pm

    this series of books was THE book that turned my son onto reading.

    The same thing happened here in our house. He’s read all but 7 about five times now, and I’m sure he’ll go over book 7 that many times. If there was no other reason to love Harry Potter, that’s why I would say I do. But alas, I got hooked, too!

    Daisy, I’m grateful that there was something of worth in the article for you. Writing it was an awesome experience. The Spirit burned in me as I did, so if anyone else gets anything out of it, that will be bonus as far as I’m concerned. 🙂

  • Oregonian July 29, 2007, 9:55 am

    Thanks, mlinford. Nice post.

  • mindy July 29, 2007, 10:27 am

    Thanks for this post. I hadn’t really make the link between Harry’s feelings about Dumbledore and my own feelings about Joseph Smith. There is so much unknown, so many “missteps” by everyone, but it is hard to feel like you aren’t allowed to know about or think about those things because the person in question is so revered.

    I’d say more, but the 2yo is tantruming.

  • east-of-eden July 29, 2007, 4:19 pm

    This was really good, I was thinking many similar things when I was reading thru this book. I have also wondered why some people have to constantly question every little thing the leadership of the Church tell us. I think we have to apply the concept of faith obeience to our personal lives as well. There is so much that we do not understand, especially when in the midst of trials, as to why things happen. All of us will come across a time when we will have to chose to go forward and have faith that all will be well and that all will be for our good.

    We are really Harry Potter dorky-dorks in our family. I had a copy as did my mom and sister, and then my husband had the audio book. We were all at mom’s last weekend and spent it wandering from room to room reading. Of course the kids totally tore the place up in our mental absence, but it was a good read. My 7yo neice kept advising all of us to not finish the book, as there were no more coming out after this one.

    As for books vs movies: the books are not the movies, but you can get a good idea of what the books are like from the movies. I think the books are very well written. I also think JKR has an amazing command of the English lanugage. Her use of descriptive language is wonderful!

  • mollymormon August 4, 2007, 2:36 pm

    I just got #7 on tuesday evening, and finished it up on Thursday morning. Yeah, it was that good. I liked book 1,2 and 3. Book 4 was rather disturbing, books 5 and 6 were a bit ho-hum, but book 7 was pretty amazing. I thought it was great how she wrapped up so many loose ends, and how she brought some good values into the whole series.

    There are some really interesting character studies here, yet one thing I don’t like is that we’ll probably spend more time discussing the character of harry potter instead of real heroes like, ya know, the prophets! Why can’t we get into the scriptures like we do with Harry Potter?

    But still I go on to discuss… I really liked how Dumbledore avoided taking power, because he knew he was susceptible to the corruption of power. We’ve been studying George Washington, and found that he truly was a very uncommon man in that he truly did not want power. Harry Potter was somewhat like George Washingon, in that respect. He did what he had to do as a sense of duty, not for glory (although perhaps he did revel in it a bit.)

    I too liked the faith part, but I think we’re lucky because we can rely on the spirit and gospel principles to know who to have faith in.

    And btw, I always had faith in Dumbledore!! And I even had faith in Snape although I did have my doubts more about him. I think maybe I’m an optimist, I just didn’t wanna believe they could be evil.

    I think JKR did a wonderful job as a storyteller, weaving all the elements together. I’m not sure I agree that they are the most well-written books, though. I’ve read much more well-written books. I’m certainly not saying they are poorly written, either. I wouldn’t say her command of the English language is amazing, mainly because I don’t think the vocabulary is that impressive. But I do understand that had she used lots of big words, it would’ve turned off much of the audience. All in all, a good read!

  • mlinford August 4, 2007, 4:52 pm

    I agree with you about our study, and I was actually a little hesitant to write this for that reason.

    After finishing book 6, I was mad at JK for what had happened, you know. I went to a web site that had all these theories about what could have really happened, and what might happen in Book 7. It was a fun read, but also a bit disturbing; the authors were cross-referencing HP like we do scripture!

    But, that said, I think there can be good found in other sources as well, and I had some interesting experiences like this one reading and reflecting. And it all got my face in the words of the prophets, too, so…. 🙂

    I too liked the faith part, but I think we’re lucky because we can rely on the spirit and gospel principles to know who to have faith in.

    Well said. Of course, the analogy only was the scaffolding; the depth that the gospel brings into our lives surpasses anything that could be found in any fictional book. 🙂

  • mollymormon August 4, 2007, 10:13 pm

    I did think it was nice to find gospel applications in harry potter to discuss with my son at any rate! 😉 And I certainly wouldn’t tell people not to read them, I quite enjoyed them! I guess it’s all a matter of keeping it in perspective.

  • east-of-eden August 4, 2007, 11:01 pm

    mlinford, did you find your HP theories on dumbledoreisnotdead.com (which is now beyondhogwarts.com)?

    We finished HP Audio book 7 for the second time tonight. It was great!

    Molly, good analogy with George Washington and power. I think it was Washington’s desire to only have as much power as he needed to do his job, which set our country on the path it has traveled these 231 years.

  • momof2 August 5, 2007, 6:39 am

    Posted By: mollymormonWhy can’t we get into the scriptures like we do with Harry Potter?

    Have you ever tried reading the scriptures like a book, just for the storyline? I like to do that every so often. It gives me another perspective and helps keep things interesting, too. 🙂

  • mlinford August 5, 2007, 2:58 pm

    Yup. That is the site I went to when I was in mourning. 🙂

  • msl123 August 10, 2007, 11:44 pm

    OK was it completely obvious to everyone else how she (Rowlings) tried to make Harry similar in ways to the Savior. I hope I’m not being blasphemous in making this comparison I truly don’t mean to be. Forgive me if you think I am. I just thought of our Savior as I read the last chapters of the book. How Harry chose to die willingly in order to save others. In doing so brought protection over “those he loved” as his mother did through her sacrifice to save him. Right now I’m preparing a lesson on the atonement and I never really thought about how Christ felt walking up to Gethsemane He knew the weight he must bear he asked Father remove this cup from me if it be they will, nevertheless not my will but thine be done. He made the greatest sacrifice to save us all from sin and death. So we can be happy and return to Him if we repent and are true and faithful. Remember how Voldemort in physical war was trying to kill others using every tactic he had. Similarly imagine Satan and his minions not in a physical war but a spiritual war trying to take away our testimony, our faith, throwing everything he has at us until we feel so hopeless as he fills our minds with lies telling us there is no way out, no way for us to return. But there is a way through Jesus Christ we can repent we can always return to Christ and build our faith back up. As we fight against Satan we can win the war with Christ by our side to help us and strengthen us. He loves us so much. Can you imagine? Our Savior, He lived a perfect life to save us, He chose to suffer and die to save us, he overcame death to save us. How encompassing his love is for us its hard for me to imagine the depth thereof.

  • mlinford August 13, 2007, 11:08 am

    msl123, thanks for your thoughts. I think there were lots of parallels we could make from that book.

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